On Feb. 10, 40 Jews, Christians and Muslims will embark on a joint "spiritual pilgrimage" to Israel and Jordan. The trip will focus solely on religious themes common to all three faiths. The author, an Egyptian-born engineer, is one of the trip's organizers. You can learn more about the trip and follow its progress at www.abraham.la.
Almost a year ago, Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein of Wilshire Boulevard Temple asked me to join him in organizing an interfaith trip to visit
the holy sites in Israel and Jordan. He emphasized that while there have been many interfaith trips comprising Jews and Christians, the participation of Muslims would maximize the spiritual and intellectual experience of our common heritage that goes back to Abraham.
I was torn between the ideals of my faith in one merciful God and the reality of the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict among the current descendants of Abraham. Our ethical and moral roots are deep. As a Muslim, I honor all God's prophets and revelations as stated in Quran, from Abraham to Moses to Jesus. But these deep roots do not seem to be enough to quell the reality of the current tragic political conflict among the descendants of Abraham. So, in order to rise above this unfortunate situation, we decided to focus on a spiritual pilgrimage, following the footsteps of our father, Abraham, and those whom we consider his prophetic descendants, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. Peace be upon them.
While not many Muslims would have any interest in a "trip" to Israel and Jordan, I believe many Muslims would relish the opportunity to see where Abraham lived, where Moses stood and saw the Holy Land, where Jesus was born to be a sign and spirit from God and where Mohammed in a mystical night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem prayed with all previous prophets before ascending to the heavens to witness God's greatest signs.
Therefore, the idea of an interfaith trip to Israel and Jordan has become a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands.
While developing the detailed itinerary, my Christian and Jewish colleagues strived to keep a balance between all religious sites. While they made sure that the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque will be on the itinerary to please the Muslims, many may not realize that Muslims are the triple winners: All Jewish and Christian sites are our revered sites, too.
With our plans, trust and understanding in place, our pilgrimage to the Holy Land became an easy "sell" to the Muslim community, since it was emphasized that it is a fulfillment of our Islamic ideals of the oneness of God and the unity with diversity of all mankind:
"We (God) have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know and cherish one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him" (Quran, 49:13).
Obviously, this pilgrimage is not for activists with a political or national agenda. In preparation for the pilgrimage, three enrichment sessions were held at Muslim, Christian and Jewish places of worship in order to get to know and understand one another. For me, these encounters helped me to view my scripture in a whole new perspective.
I believe that God, the Creator, the Sustainer of all worlds, would not send prophets with conflicting messages. There is inherently one true message of accepting no deity besides Him, and to follow His commandments in order to establish goodness and justice and to stand against evil and tyranny. This inherent truth enlightened my thoughts, especially after many spirited discussions with my friend, Rabbi Stein. Our father, Abraham, is described in the Quran as "a nation":
"Verily, Abraham was a nation who combined all virtues, devoutly obeying God's will, turning away from all that is false, and not being one of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God." (Quran, 16:120).
This message is the same in God's admonition to Mohammed:
"We have inspired thee [Mohammed] with this message: 'Follow the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribed divinity to aught beside God.'" (Quran, 16:123).
The same universal message was given to Moses: "Said (God): 'O Moses! Behold, I have raised thee above all people by virtue of the messages which I have entrusted to thee, and by virtue of My speaking (unto thee); hold fast, therefore, unto what I have vouchsafed thee, and be among the grateful!' And We have ordained for him in the tablets (of the law) all manner of admonition, clearly spelling out everything. And (We said): 'Hold fast unto them with all your strength, and enjoin your people to hold fast by the best in the precepts.'" (Quran, 7:144-145).
Personally, this pilgrimage is an opportunity to overcome the politics of conflict and violence and to build bridges of religious and intellectual understanding and trust for the common good.
Asalaamu aleikum, shalom aleichem; may peace be upon us all.